The Americans is an American period drama television series created by Joe Weisberg for the FX television network. Set in the early 1980s during the Cold War, it is the story of Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple living in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., with their children Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati). Their neighbor Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) is an FBI agent working in counterintelligence.
The series premiered in the United States on January 30, 2013. On May 25, 2016, FX set an end-date for the series by renewing it for a fifth and sixth season. The 10-episode sixth and final season premiered on March 28, 2018.
The Americans, a period piece set during the Reagan administration, was outlined by series creator Joe Weisberg, a former CIA officer. The series focuses on the personal and professional lives of the Jennings family—a married couple of two Soviet deep-cover sleeper agents placed in the Washington, D.C. area in the 1960s and their unsuspecting, American-born children. The story picks up in the early 1980s. The show's creator has described the series as being essentially about a marriage: "The Americans is at its core a marriage story. International relations is just an allegory for the human relations. Sometimes, when you're struggling in your marriage or with your kid, it feels like life or death. For Philip and Elizabeth, it often is." Joel Fields, the other leading executive producer on the writing team, described the series as working different levels of reality: the fictional world of the marriage between Philip and Elizabeth, and the real world involving the characters' experiences during the Cold War.
In 2007, after leaving the CIA, Weisberg published An Ordinary Spy, a novel about a spy who is completing the final stages of his training in Virginia and is being transferred overseas. After reading Weisberg's novel, executive producer Graham Yost discovered that Weisberg had also written a pilot for a possible spy series. Weisberg was fascinated by stories he had heard from agents who served abroad as spies, while raising their families. He was interested in bringing that concept to television, with the idea of a family of spies, rather than just one person. Yost read the pilot and discovered that it was "annoyingly good", which led to developing the show.
Weisberg says the CIA inadvertently gave him the idea for a series about spies, explaining, "While I was taking the polygraph exam to get in, they asked the question, 'Are you joining the CIA in order to gain experience about the intelligence community so that you can write about it later'—which had never occurred to me. I was totally joining the CIA because I wanted to be a spy. But the second they asked that question ... then I thought, 'Now I'm going to fail the test.'" The job at CIA, which Weisberg later described as a mistake, has helped him develop several storylines in the series, basing some plot lines on real-life stories, and integrating tactics and methods he learned in his training, such as dead drops and communication protocols.
Weisberg was partially influenced by the events of the Illegals Program to write a pilot script for the series. His research material included notes on the KGB's Cold War left by Vasili Mitrokhin and conversations with some of his former colleagues at the CIA. He stated that, unlike the circumstances involving the Illegals Program (which culminated in 2010), he had opted to set the story in the early 1980s because "a modern day [setting] didn't seem like a good idea", adding, "People were both shocked and simultaneously shrugged at the  scandal because it didn't seem like we were really enemies with Russia anymore. An obvious way to remedy that for television was to stick it back in the Cold War. At first, the '70s appealed to me just because I loved the hair and the music. But can you think of a better time than the '80s with Ronald Reagan yelling about the evil empire?" In a 2017 interview Weisberg said that the show tried hard to resist the influence of the current political climate: "What you don’t want is for people watching the show and thinking ‘Oh, those clever writers, they did little things here and there that have to do with Donald Trump or what's going on with Russia today'".
Weisberg said he had no idea about who would star in the series before casting began. FX president John Landgraf had the idea to cast Keri Russell in the series. Leslie Feldman, the head of casting at DreamWorks, saw Matthew Rhys in a play and suggested him to Weisberg. Russell and Rhys had met briefly at a party years before, but were not fully introduced. They both were attracted to the series because of its focus on the relationship between their characters. Said Rhys, "You have two people who have led the most incredibly strange life together with incredibly high stakes, in this scene of domesticity that is an absolute lie, and at the end of the pilot they're finding each other for the very first time."
Russell described the pilot script as "interesting", continuing, "It was so far from a procedural. And [originally,] I didn't know that I wanted to do it. I always say no to everything. I never want to do anything. [Laughs.] But I just couldn't stop thinking about it. I read it ... and I kept trying to figure it out, because it's so not clear. It's still not clear to me. But there's so many different levels to it."
Rhys said of his character, "He's a sort of gift of a part in that he's very sort of layered and multi-faceted. And when you meet him, he's at this great turning point in his life where everything's changing for him. You just get to do everything. You get to do the kung fu, and you get to do the emotional scenes, you get to do the disguises. It's the full package for an actor. It's a dream."
Noah Emmerich was initially hesitant about taking a role in the series. He explained: "The truth is, from the very beginning, I thought, 'I don't want to do a TV show where I carry a gun or a badge. I'm done with guns and badges. I just don't want to do that anymore.' When I first read it I thought, 'Yeah, it's really interesting and really good, but I don't want to be an FBI guy.'" His friend, Gavin O'Connor, who directed the pilot episode, convinced him to take a closer look at the role. Emmerich stated that he responded to the aspect of marriage and family. "It was really interesting, and it was really intelligent and unusual, and it stood out from the pack."
After recurring in the first season, Susan Misner, Annet Mahendru, and Alison Wright, who play Sandra Beeman, Nina, and Martha Hanson, respectively, were promoted to series regulars beginning with season two. After recurring in the first two seasons, Lev Gorn, who plays Arkady Ivanovich, was promoted to series regular for season three.
Weisberg, one of the executive-producing showrunners and head writers, wrote the first two episodes of the series. Landgraf, who did not know Weisberg but liked the series, suggested to Weisberg that he work alongside Joel Fields as co-showrunner and the other head writer. Fields, in turn, persuaded TV writer Joshua Brand, with whom he had been working on a new pilot, to join the show's writing team as consulting producer shortly after the start; between them, Weisberg, Fields, and Brand wrote or co-wrote ten of the first season's thirteen episodes. In the second season, the show added other producers to the writing team: screenwriter and journalist Stephen Schiff, playwright and children's book author Peter Ackerman, and playwright Tracey Scott Wilson. All six of those writers (Weisberg, Fields, Brand, Schiff, Ackerman, and Wilson) remained with the show throughout its run. In addition, playwright and Americans story editor Hilary Bettis was added to the writing staff in season 5, and Americans script coordinator Justin Weinberger and production assistant Sarah Nolen were also added to the writing staff in the sixth and final season.
The main characters of the show, despite being Soviet KGB officers, have to behave as American-born citizens, and therefore do not generally speak Russian on-screen. But other Soviet agents, immigrants and—later in the show—ordinary Soviet people, converse in Russian. Joe Weisberg explained that achieving believable Russian pronunciation was very important because the show was "so much centered on the world of the Russian Russians and the Russian illegals". In most cases, Russian was the native language for the actors playing Soviet characters. Other actors mastered their lines to sound almost native. In particular, Peter von Berg, who played Vasili Nikolayevich, has experience with Russian plays and was an accent coach. General Zhukov was played by a Polish actor. Annet Mahendru, who played Nina, has a Russian mother and speaks six languages. Mahendru praised Matthew Rhys for his efforts in delivering a few phrases in Russian, adding: "It's really important to everyone, so they’re all trying, but it's a difficult language for all of us — even those of us who are fluent in it!"
Weisberg underscored the importance of the authenticity. According to him, there were "some perfectly good people [in the Rezidentura] who were easy to relate to even if you didn't believe in the cause they were serving". He concluded: "Once you bring that level of detail into a show, you can't do cardboard cutouts anymore. You're not in the realm of cliché. You will invariably build a real person."
The series films in New York City at Eastern Effects Studios in Brooklyn. Other shooting locations include: Mamaroneck, Coney Island Avenue, Kew Gardens, Morningside Heights, Farmingdale, and Staten Island. Shooting of the pilot episode began in May 2012 and lasted until mid-June. Filming began for the rest of the first season in November 2012 in the New York City area. The production used location shots to simulate a dramatic setting of Washington, D.C. Early filming was delayed by flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. Filming for the second season commenced in October 2013.
The surnames of most of the Russian characters are not revealed. In scenes taking place inside the Soviet embassy, the characters address each other in a familiar but respectful manner, using given name and patronymic, without mentioning surnames. "Ivanovich" means "son of Ivan" and "Sergeevna" indicates "daughter of Sergei".
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||13||January 30, 2013||May 1, 2013|
|2||13||February 26, 2014||May 21, 2014|
|3||13||January 28, 2015||April 22, 2015|
|4||13||March 16, 2016||June 8, 2016|
|5||13||March 7, 2017||May 30, 2017|
|6||10||March 28, 2018||May 30, 2018|
Season 1 follows Stan Beeman turning Nina Krilova into an American spy in the Rezidentura. Philip has to kill FBI counterintelligence agent Amador after Amador catches him with Gadd's secretary Martha. Beeman then kills Vlad, a young and inexperienced KGB officer, in retaliation for his partner's murder. Nina becomes a re-doubled agent, confessing to the Rezident. Elizabeth and Philip's marriage implodes after Philip briefly reunites with his former Soviet lover Irina, who tells him that they have a son named Mischa serving in the Soviet military. The Jennings reconcile after the death of Elizabeth's former lover Gregory. The season ends after Nina blows up an FBI operation to capture Elizabeth while she picks up a dead drop that is under surveillance, but Elizabeth is shot and badly wounded during the escape.
Season 2 follows the Jennings attempting to capture technology and data relating to the United States efforts to develop stealth aircraft, including kidnapping Russian defector Anton, who is a scientist on the project. At the same time, Elizabeth and Philip attempt to solve the murders of two other Directorate S operatives, Leanne and Emmet. Believing that Captain Larrick, a Navy SEAL, is responsible, they agree to free him from blackmail after he gets them access to a training camp for Nicaraguan Contras. At the end of the season, it is revealed that Jared, Leanne and Emmet's son, murdered his parents after they discovered he had been recruited by the KGB. They are then approached by Claudia, their handler, who informs them that their daughter Paige has been selected as the next recruit, under a program to develop "Second Generation Illegals" who can pass background checks and presumably be hired by the FBI and the CIA. When Nina fails to turn Stan into a double agent, she is arrested by the KGB for espionage and returned to the USSR.
Season 3 features the Jennings coping with the stress of preparing themselves to reveal their true nature to Paige. To make her more comfortable with the notion, Elizabeth becomes more involved with Paige's church activities. Meanwhile, Elizabeth learns her mother is dying and remembers their life together in Russia. The main storylines for the season include the arrival of a Soviet defector whom Stan is assigned to monitor (and fears may be a double agent), the war in Afghanistan (which takes a toll on both Philip, whose son Mischa is serving in Afghanistan, and Oleg, whose brother was executed by the Afghan resistance). Other plots include exploring the relationship between the Soviet Union and the anti-apartheid movement, the manipulated Martha's secret spying on her FBI bosses being uncovered, Nina's time in a Soviet Gulag, and Oleg's attempts to protect her through his father's influence.
In the middle of season 3, Philip and Elizabeth reveal their true identities as Soviet agents to Paige, who ultimately travels to Germany along with Elizabeth for a secret visit to her ailing grandmother. Philip arranges the murder of an FBI employee who then is framed for the spying in order to protect Martha (who discovers that her husband is a spy, though Philip omits that he works for the Russians). However, the trip to Germany only increases Paige's contempt for her parents, leading to her calling her reverend mentor (Pastor Tim) and revealing her family's secret to him.
Season 4 picks up immediately after the end of season 3 and deals with the consequences of Paige's confession to Pastor Tim, which her parents quickly uncover, as well as Soviet espionage within the American bioweapons program, which is being conducted by William, another Soviet illegal. Nina tries to help Anton send a message to his son back in the U.S., but the message is intercepted, and she is executed. Stan becomes suspicious of Martha as the true source of the bug in the FBI offices, but before he finds definitive evidence to prove it, the KGB manages to smuggle her to Russia. As a consequence, Agent Gaad is replaced as head of FBI counterintelligence, and Gaad is then accidentally killed several months later during a failed KGB attempt to turn him. After volunteering at Pastor Tim's food bank, Elizabeth and Paige are confronted by muggers, and Elizabeth kills one of them to escape, exacerbating Paige's crisis of conscience. Oleg decides to return home to the USSR to be with his grieving parents, but before leaving he tells Stan about the Soviet bioweapons espionage, leading to William's capture and suicide. The U.S. then expels Arkady, leaving Tatiana as the acting Rezident. After leaving the military, Philip's son Mischa decides to go to the U.S. to locate and meet his father. Paige begins spending time with Stan's son Matthew, despite her parents' objections.
Season 5 opens with Philip and Elizabeth, disguised as airline pilot and flight attendant respectively, beginning a new assignment with Tuan, their Vietnamese "adopted son". They investigate a defected Soviet agriculture expert Alexei Morozov, befriending his wife Evgheniya and their son Pasha. Oleg finds himself back home in Moscow with a new task to investigate corruption in the state food supply system. Stan balances a new romance with a woman he met at the gym named Renee, while hearing worrisome details concerning the CIA's unfolding plans for Oleg. Exfiltrated Martha tries to adjust to life in Moscow. Henry is romantically interested in a girl and wants to attend a prestigious boarding school with her and some of his new friends; Philip initially agrees, but later refuses. The Center arranged an attractive position for Pastor Tim in Buenos Aires. Paige tries to deal with her complicated existence; Elizabeth teaches Paige calming techniques as well as offers fighting training. Philip and Elizabeth are secretly married by a Russian Orthodox priest. Philip and Elizabeth make their final decision to return home to the USSR with their children, who have not been told. However, new information requires them to stay in the U.S. to continue the Kimmy operation.
|1||88% (51 reviews)||78 (35 reviews)|
|2||97% (37 reviews)||88 (31 reviews)|
|3||100% (53 reviews)||92 (23 reviews)|
|4||99% (44 reviews)||95 (28 reviews)|
|5||95% (37 reviews)||94 (19 reviews)|
|6||100% (16 reviews)||92 (18 reviews)|
The first season of The Americans received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received an 88 percent approval rating with an average score of 7.86 out of 10 based on 51 reviews, with a critics' consensus of: "The Americans is a spy thriller of the highest order, with evocative period touches and strong chemistry between its leads." Metacritic scored the show a 78 out of 100 based on 35 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". The American Film Institute listed it as one of the top ten television series of 2013. Rob Brunner of Entertainment Weekly described it as "an absorbing spy thriller" while David Hinkley of the New York Daily News praised the pace, noting that "It's a premise that requires as much clever dramatic footwork as you might expect, and creator Joe Weisberg, a former CIA agent, handles the challenge". Verne Gay of Newsday called it a "smart newcomer with a pair of leads that turns The Americans into a likely winner" and gave it a grade of an "A−".
Some reviews were not as optimistic. The Washington Post was cautious in its outlook, stating "it's easy to see how stale it might get in a matter of episodes." Salon would have traded sex scenes for a serious conversation about Reagan's persona and policies. Variety, while finding the concept "intriguing and provocative", ultimately concluded that "[t]he execution ... isn't worthy of the premise."
Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture liked "how The Americans isolates and magnifies true feelings in dishonest situations". Comparing the "high and violent" first season of The Americans full of "fights and guns and explosions" to Homeland he expressed high hopes about the next season "for one big reason: where Homeland's first season hinged mainly on a relationship between two specific characters, Carrie and Brody, in a specific situation (hunter and hunted in love), The Americans is primarily about the idea of partnership, marriage but also mentorship, friendship and professional camaraderie. It’s at once more thematically specific and more dramatically wide-ranging than Homeland. As a result, it feels at once more rooted and more free."
The second season received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 97 percent approval rating with an average score of 8.83 out of 10 based on 37 reviews, with a critics consensus of: "Adding fuel to the fire, The Americans retains all the suspense and action of season one while enhancing the level of excitement... and wigs." Metacritic scored the show an 88 out of 100 based on 31 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Several entities have rated the show among the best television for 2014, including the American Film Institute, The A.V. Club, and Grantland.
Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter called the series "one of television's finest dramas" and praised the ability of the writers in "nailing down season two ... by picking up where the story left off and making sure that this spy-vs.-spy thing has real-life costs." Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praised the series for doing "the near-impossible of making viewers cheer for Russian spies in America and at the same time for the American FBI agents who are trying to unmask those Russians living in suburbia." Alan Sepinwall of HitFix praised the second season, stating how the show has, "taken a major creative leap—the kind that can elevate a show from a strong example of its era to one that transcends eras."
Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times did not approve of its portrayal of the children, expressing concern for how viewers are expected to accept the dangerous situations the children are placed in while the show continues to use crime and violence to advance the story in The Americans and other like-minded shows. The New York Daily News questioned its survivability: "Credibility starts to fray when our heroes, or anti-heroes, keep needing miraculous last-second evasions and escapes."
The third season received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 100% approval rating with an average score of 9.03 out of 10 based on 53 reviews, with a critics consensus of: "Family-driven drama and psychological themes propel The Americans' tautly drawn tension, dispensing thrills of a different ilk this season." Metacritic lists a score of 92 out of 100 based on 23 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Alessandra Stanley's review in The New York Times states that, "'The Americans' is an unusually clever, subtle drama that uses the conventions of a Cold War thriller to paint a portrait of a complicated, evolving but not unhappy marriage...[E]very season gets more complicated, and is all the better for it." Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post declared that the first four episodes were "every bit as taut and finely crafted as the stellar prior season of the show." Todd VanDerWerff of Vox said "The Americans is in the kind of incredible stretch of episodes TV dramas sometimes hit in the middle of their runs" and that it is "on one of the best runs of episodes in TV drama history."
The "visceral" third season where "everyone lies" left Helen Verongos of The New York Times "more paranoid than ever", with "Elizabeth and Philip's worst fears have been realized". For them, according to Laura Hudson of Vulture, "intimacy is secrecy; for Paige, intimacy is truth".
The fourth season received widespread acclaim from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 99% approval rating with an average score of 9.2 out of 10 based on 44 reviews, with a critics consensus of: "With its fourth season, The Americans continues to deliver top-tier spy drama while sending its characters in directions that threaten to destroy their freedoms—and their lives." On Metacritic, the season has a score of 95 out of 100 based on 28 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com praised the series and wrote, "It is that depth of character and nuance in the writing that elevates The Americans, along with its willingness to offer stunning narrative developments. [...] I'm now convinced that when we close the final chapter of this televised novel we may finally appreciate one of the best shows we've ever seen."
James Poniewozik of The New York Times characterized the fourth season as melancholy "catalog of loss", which adds "a note of gloom even to the tensest moments in this drama". He found similarities between The Americans and Breaking Bad, but ultimately concluded that "maybe The Americans is neither Breaking Bad nor a traditional spy story. Maybe it's a teenage horror movie, the kind where the biggest danger, in the end, is already inside your own house", referring to coming-of-age Paige becoming disillusioned, discovering secrets about her parents.
On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 95% approval rating with an average score of 9.08 out of 10 based on 37 reviews, with a critics consensus of: "In its penultimate season, The Americans brings long-simmering storylines to a boil while heightening the spy-thriller stakes and deepening the domestic drama—all brought vividly to life by superb performances from its veteran cast." On Metacritic, the season has a score of 94 out of 100 based on 19 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe gave it a highly positive review and wrote, "The drama remains as tense as ever, with strong, careful writing and an abundance of fine performances." Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter also lauded the series, "It's extremely well-constructed, with slow-burning storylines that are paying off in superb dramatic depth" and praised its "top-tier acting" and "artfully crafted visuals".
Some critics expected the fifth season to culminate in a "disastrous eruption". Instead as the season progressed, it became criticized for turning "slow burn" into just "warm embers", morphing into a show about "people staring off into the distance, stirring tea, keeping their thoughts to themselves and worrying quite a lot about grain supply". According to Fields and Weisberg, they wanted the fifth season "to feel different as it unspooled", harvesting the story pieces created in the fourth season. Pacing of the fifth season was slowed down intentionally, but was not meant as a set-up for the sixth season. Weisberg and Fields admitted that they did not expect "this much of a backlash" for "hitting the brakes too hard". They were upset by criticism, but suggested waiting until the series is over, hoping for the response to become more muted in context of the sixth and the final season.
The sixth season has received widespread acclaim from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 100% approval rating with an average score of 9.6 out of 10 based on 16 reviews, with a critics consensus of: "The Americans' powerful final season pumps up the volume on an already intense show, concluding the complex series arc with epic familial conflict... and a high body count." On Metacritic, the season has a score of 92 out of 100 based on 18 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
|Season||Ep. 1||Ep. 2||Ep. 3||Ep. 4||Ep. 5||Ep. 6||Ep. 7||Ep. 8||Ep. 9||Ep. 10||Ep. 11||Ep. 12||Ep. 13||Average|
The Americans airs internationally in Australia on Network Ten, Canada on FX Canada, Ireland on RTÉ Two, and the United Kingdom on ITV. ITV dropped the series in January 2015 and did not acquire the third season. On July 20, 2015, ITV acquired seasons three and four for their subscription channel ITV Encore.
Season 1 was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in Region 1 on February 11, 2014, in region 2 on March 24, 2014, and in region 4 on February 5, 2014. Special features include audio commentary on "The Colonel" by Joe Weisberg, Joel Fields and Noah Emmerich; three featurettes: "Executive Order 2579: Exposing the Americans", "Perfecting the Art of Espionage", and "Ingenuity Over Technology"; gag reel; and deleted scenes.
Season 2 was released on DVD only, because the Blu-ray release of season 1 did not have enough sales to justify the format. The Region 1 version was released on December 16, 2014. The Region 2 version was released on January 26, 2015. Special features include two featurettes: "Operation Ghost Stories: The Real Directorate 'S'" and "Shades of Red: The Mortality of the Americans"; gag reel; and deleted scenes.
Season 3 was released on DVD in Region 1 on March 1, 2016. Special features include deleted scenes and a featurette titled "The Cold War for Paige".
Season 4 was released on DVD in Region 1 on March 7, 2017. Special features include extended and deleted scenes.
Season 5 was released on DVD in Region 1 on March 27, 2018. Special features include deleted scenes and a gag reel.
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